Monday, September 01, 2014

Labor Day

It is odd to title this "labor" day, as I've really done nothing that even approaches labor. A few weekend thoughts -

- I finally made home made yogurt, using this general procedure, though skipping the ice bath. Hot enamel over cast iron pans don't react well when plunged into an ice bath. It only took about ten minutes for the milk to cool down enough to add the yogurt. Since I like a fairly thick product, I did add a few tablespoons of dry milk along with the commercial yogurt, but did not go whole hog and drain off the whey to get a Greek-style thickness.

This afternoon, I had my first bowlful, sweetened with a bit of honey and flavored with a little vanilla, topped with some granola. Yum. After having chilled overnight, the texture was both a bit thicker and creamier than it had been when I stopped the fermenting. I do wish I had some berries in the house, so I could flavor some that way (in a fit of nostalgia for the summer-that-wasn't, I ordered both a watermelon and a cantaloupe in my Friday grocery order, but no berries). Overall, I do think I'll be doing this again, though I still have about nine or so of the over-sweet yoplait to finish off first.

- A friend has a start up martial arts studio, combining learning the moves with discipleship - learning about Jesus, learning good character. He has a few new students, and had the outfit thingees (I still don't know what to call them) to be hemmed. For whichever branch he teaches, they need knee length pants and above elbow jackets. He dropped off four sets...the actual sewing doesn't take long, even with four separate lines of stitching around each opening, thanks to the 1100 stitches per minute the machine offers, but the measure, mark, cut, turn up, turn the edge under phase? Yeah, more than two long movies' worth of work. But they are done, and once the sewing itself started, fun to do.

- On the personal sewing project side, not much was done. I did pull fabric for the back and binding of the pillow whose top I finished last weekend. At this rate, I may have an actual pillow in another week or so. I also sewed a sample buttonhole. Another cool feature of this machine: when you tap "auto buttonhole", a screen pops up. You line up your actual button with the left edge of the screen, then turn the stitch length knob until the big black line is at the right edge of the button. A little graphic above shows you (and tells you in millimeters - hey, the machine is Swiss) the exact size not only of the buttonhole, but of the width of the slit inside it. Hit record, and the machine will stitch that exact buttonhole as many times as you would like.

- Cooked my favorite chicken-and-rice dish, using brown rice instead of the white rice I usually use (and was out of). Note for the future: an hour and fifteen minutes of baking is not enough to thoroughly cook brown rice. The initial meal was a bit...crunchy, but the leftovers, microwaved for a while with additional water, were great.

- Almost forgot the best surprise! About five thirty today I was sitting watching the news, thinking about ordering pizza. The doorbell rang (why yes, the doorbell that I fixed, which shortly after that died for a day or two, has come back to life, working perfectly)...it was my neighbor from across the sidewalk, with a huge plate of food. She said I never came over, so she fixed a plate for me. I'm confused - I know they seem to have company on the holidays, since their big patio umbrella goes up, but if it's a community thing, I didn't know about it. I actually had several things I was trying to get done, so couldn't join them. Wonderful gesture, wonderful food. It really is more than time for me to have the neighborhood over and start getting to know people a bit better.

- Lots of little stuff going on this week. Hair appointment, embroidery class, will signing. Somewhere in there, I need to do other little things, like clean. Maybe even cook some more. And finish that throw pillow.

August reads

August reads. I was sure there was another non-fiction book; I'll have to check the other kindle. I've been updating this as I finish the book, and the post was scheduled to post early this morning. It didn't post; not sure why. That makes me wonder if, in the updating process, I messed something up. Stupid Blogger. Or stupid me. Anyway, here we go...

Fiction
The Road to Cardinal Valley - Earlene Fowler - This is the follow up to last month's The Saddlemaker's Wife. It takes some unexpected turns, but overall, continues well with the lives of the characters. I doubt there will be a third in the series; all the loose ends were tied up and there doesn't seem to be anywhere else for the characters to go.

The Swan House: A Novel - Elizabeth Musser - I would really like to know on whose blog or recommendation I picked this up (first week of July this year). It's a wonderful novel, set in the early sixties in Atlanta, in the middle of historical events (the crash of a planeful of Atlanteans in Lyon, the civil rights movement). In fact, I liked it enough to pick up another by the same author.

The Guards: A Novel (Jack Taylor series) - Ken Bruen - Sooooo...whilst wandering through Netflix, looking for something in the "hard boiled detective" genre, I ran across a miniseries starring one of the actors from Game of Thrones. The first installment wasn't too bad, so I decided to check out the books on which the series is based. I pick books for the strangest reasons...This is set in Ireland, Galway, in fact, as the author continually reminds us. The protagonist is Jack Taylor, ex-Gardi, current alcoholic with few friends other than the bottle. The book is well written, though very, very...Irish. Dark. Brooding. Full of poetry at odd spots and strange formatting. The comparisons in the blurbs are to Elmore Leonard, and like Leonard's books, I'm happy with one every so often, but don't care for them enough to make it a steady diet.

Dwelling Place - Elizabeth Musser - This is a follow up to The Swan House, a next generation, if you will. I don't want to say much, but I will say I very much needed to read this book.


Nonfiction
Master Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Organizing Your Life With Evernote (and 75 Ideas to Get You Started) - S. J. Scott - The title may be longer than the actual book. I started using Evernote a few years ago (it's available for free as a desktop app, along with free apps for all mobile platforms, plus kindle and nook), and find it handy to keep some information available without having to deal with paper notes. You set up "notebooks" to hold your "notes - which can be typed, scanned, photos, audio or video files - and can stack notebooks and tag individual notes. There is an add-on web clipper, with which you can save a URL,an entire web page or a portion of a page (like a recipe). You can store your information locally on your device, but an Evernote account comes with free cloud storage. By storing your notes on Evernote's servers, you can sync and retrieve them across all your devices. Even though my "if it's in the cloud the government can get at it" paranoid, tin-foil hat wearing side isn't thrilled with using the cloud storage, it is incredibly convenient to look up the size fluorescent tube I need on Evernote when I'm standing at the hardware store, having forgotten the written note that would tell me the size. The book has some handy tips for organizing things, making use of functions within Evernote of which you might not be aware.

My Life in France - Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme - I know things have moved on from the great Julia craze, but I was watching old episodes of The French Chef and realized I'd never read this book. If you've seen the show, or read any of her cookbooks, you will recognize her unique voice in this memoir, even though it was written by her great nephew from interviews he had with her. It's written in the the first person, and sounds just like her. The glimpse into 1950's France is fascinating, as is the history of the publishing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her husband Paul, in addition to being in government service most of his career, was quite the artist; most of the pictures in the book are his. All in all, this was a great look into the life of a truly unique woman.

Manage Your Day to Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind - edited by Jocelyn C. Glei - This is a round up of blog posts about how to enhance creativity, by authors ranging from professional creative talent wranglers (think people who keep songwriters on task and on schedule) to writers and research professors. In general, the book takes what we are used to viewing as productivity enhancers for business and applies them to the "business" of creativity. Even though some of the concepts are very familiar, the way in which they are applied have special twists to adapt them to the creative mindset. Contributors include Seth Godin and Mark McGuinness, with an afterword by Stephen Pressfield. On balance, some good information.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Good thing I *like* being at home

Getting around this weekend is going to be a bit problematic.

This weekend is the big Harley Davidson rally. Most of the events are held down at the lakefront or at the dealerships, fortunately. Unfortunately, at least for this weekend, a rather large accessory and clothing store is located on one of the main drags from my place to...everywhere.

The police have already put up signs that the road in front of the House of Harley, a two lane in each direction boulevard, will be restricted to a single lane in each way, in what is normally the westbound lanes, from today through Monday. They are doing this to allow the customers and other bikers to use the eastbound lanes for parking.

I can go around the bottleneck easily enough, for the things I'm planning to do.

On Monday, things will get a bit more restricted, though in a different direction. The POTUS has decided to make an appearance in one of the few states that still support him (though with only a 45% approval rating).

Assuming the media is correct, and he is coming in to speak at "Laborfest", a union-sponsored, union-pushing "festival" down at the lakefront, and assuming the motorcade takes the shortest, fastest route, I'd expect the portion of I-94 between Mitchell and I-794 to the lakefront to be closed for most of his visit, most likely in both directions. Not that they will tell us that ahead of time.

I feel a bit sorry for anyone planning to drive that route - or trying to fly in to or out of Mitchell - on Monday.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Geeky love

It's no secret I love reading on my kindle. The ability to highlight and makes notes makes it almost like reading a real book - with one exception: you can't copy and paste that information into a more easy to use format, like a Word document. To find a highlighted passage, you need to scroll through the highlights in the book on the kindle.

Until now. Today, Tim Challies posted a wonderful technique for using Evernote in conjunction with the kindle, to download the notes and highlights into an Evernote note, which can then be filed any way you choose within that application, ready for easy (and searchable) reference.

Two of my very favorite things working together.

With the ability to search through both notes and tags on Evernote, it should be easy to find any particular highlighted passage in just a minute or so. Faster, even, than flipping through a physical book to find the highlight (I have an exceptional visual memory, one that can often visualize the placement of the highlight on the page, making finding a passage pretty quick - this is much faster).

Sorry, I don't mean to go all incoherent fan girl here, but for those of us who read quite a bit, highlight often and want to go back to refresh ourselves on the content of a book six months from our original read through, this is a wonderful technique.

Add this to the tips garnered from a book I read this month (will be listed on the August reads post, scheduled to post 9/1), and I may well become a superuser on Evernote.

Woo hoo!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sugary sweet

It took me a very long time to develop a taste for yogurt. The health benefits are undeniable, but for me, it was a texture thing. Finally, in an effort to get in some dairy other than cheese and ice cream (I hate drinking milk), I gave in.

After a few tries, I found a favorite. Not too sweet, not too yogurt-y. I've been eating Yoplait Light for years, at the rate of at least five a week.

A month or so ago, they announced they were switching sweeteners. No longer would the light version contain any of the nasty aspartame; they were using a more healthful sweetener.

Sucralose.

Um, yeah.

Still, it's a step in the right direction.

On its own, sucralose is three times as sweet as an equivalent amount of aspartame, so you would naturally think that they would cut down on the amount of sweetener added to the product.

Unfortunately, they did some "taste tests" with the general public, and decided to increase the relative sweetness of the product. So much so, in fact, that I almost can't eat it, it is so sickeningly sweet.

Sigh. One of the reasons I liked Yoplait was that it wasn't as sweet as the competitors. Stupid general public and their out of control sweet cravings.

I suppose I should grab half a dozen containers of competitor's brands and do a taste test. Judging by prior experience (including recent try outs of some "greek" yogurts) I doubt I'll find one I like.

Anyone out there have a favorite?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Round two

Friends coming for lunch and craft day. Well, one friend for both. The other called to say she had set up some informational interviews for today, so could not come to craft, but her early afternoon interview is on my side of town, and she knew that when company comes I tend to fix something yummy...

...so she is dropping in just for lunch.

I'm flattered, and she made me laugh.

At the grocery when it opened at seven. The other friend is bringing the tomatoes from her garden for the tomato tart, but I realized just before drifting off last night that I had NO onion in the house. Horrors. Plus, if I went to the grocers, I could pick up premade pie crust instead of making my own.

Then home, for breakfast and chopping. Onions, potatoes, ham, celery. Start the soup. Cook the onions for the tart. Grate two types of cheese, one for the tart (swiss) and one to put on the soup (cheddar). Unfold the pie crust into the pan. Top with (cooled) onions and cheese. Refrigerate until the tomatoes get here.

First part of soup is done. Make really, really thick white sauce to pour in and thicken soup. Soup is done.

Preheat oven.

Now, sit and wait for people to arrive.

Poor Renae won't get any tart; her interview is at one, the tart cooks for an hour, and unless Pam gets here with the tomatoes in the next five minutes, it won't be done in time for her to have a piece. Then again, she can stop back in after her interview and pick some up to take home.

It's actually been a relaxing morning, in spite of all that's been done. The house, thanks to prep for Wednesday's luncheon, is clean. I've washed the various pots and pans as I've gone, so even the kitchen is in good shape.

I am, however, tired.

Do you think I could chose "nap" as my craft?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

That kind of afternoon

At 2:20 this afternoon, the lights in the office flickered, went out, flickered once again, then died. Along with the lights, the air conditioning and other ventilation stopped.

Sigh. At least once a summer, for the seventeen years I've been there, the a/c in our office dies, usually on the hottest day of the summer. That would be true today, except the cloud cover kept it in the seventies, rather than the mid-eighties that was forecast.

Our boss decided to shut the office at three if the power didn't return, mostly because of the lack of air conditioning. The outage apparently hit three buildings, and whatever happened, it wasn't a simple fix.

It never dawned on me that the outage may have hit more than just the building power.

The first clue it was more widespread was that our Public Safety group had removed the gates on both the in and out lanes of the parking lot. No power, no way to lift the gates.

From that exit, I make a right, a left and another left to get on to the freeway to home. All three corners have traffic lights. The first stop is at the intersection of the street behind our building and an off ramp for that freeway. The second is at the corner of one of the main east-west arteries through downtown. The third sits where that artery crosses a combination off ramp/on ramp feeder coming from the north, and the on ramp and additional feeder street to a different on ramp.

All three sets of signals were out.

There were accidents at two of the three corners. No police on site yet, though a University Public Safety cruiser pulled up near one of the sites.

On both streets on the way to the ramp, there were drivers who sped past at thirty miles per hour or more, heedless of the non-working lights (or, more likely, seeing them and deciding to take advantage of them). I'm willing to bet that kind of behavior was the cause of the accidents.

Sheesh people, pay attention. Even if you don't care if you have an accident, you should care about the other people you may hit.

Ten minutes later...

The off ramp on my trip home is long, and two lanes wide, plus a breakdown lane. It serves as the connector between two pieces of highway as well as the off ramp. I saw an SUV pulled over in the breakdown lane, flashers on. A casual glance over as I passed made me laugh.

Ten feet in front of the parked SUV, a hawk was sitting in the middle of the lane.

A least, I think it was a hawk - too big to be a peregrine falcon even though they nest in the area; though lighter in color, not the distinctive bald eagles, who nest much west of here. It certainly wasn't a big seagull, as I couldn't see any driver parking on a busy ramp to protect one. The bird must have been injured, to sit there while sixty mile an hour traffic whizzed by.

It was just a glimpse, but I couldn't help but laugh at the contrast between the driver who would use his car to protect a bird, and the drivers back on campus who couldn't even slow down to protect themselves.

Priorities, people.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sigh. Day off.

I have today and Friday off as vacation days (there is a method to my madness). Since I got up this morning - a whopping fifteen minutes later than I would on a normal weekday - I may or may not have:

-Picked up the bedroom and made the bed.
-Picked up the upstairs bath and done a quick counter-mirror-shelf wipedown
-Browned ground turkey, chopped carrots and onions and got everything in the crock pot for soup, turned on by 6:30 a.m.
-Picked up the living room, did a light vacuum.
-Put away one strainer of dishes, washed the few hand wash dishes remaining.
-Loaded the dishwasher with everything else - still not quite full, so didn't run it.
-Cleaned the downstairs bathroom.
-Put away everything on the dining room table, wiped it down.
-Put all the tools in clear plastic toolboxes (they've been living in a basket in the dining room, well, at least half a dozen screwdrivers, the allen wrench set, a hammer and three or four boxes of assorted screws, nails and hangers - it's much nicer to have them in boxes).
-Picked up a bit in the sewing studio...it's a start.
-Entertained my aunt and cousin for lunch and a tour of the condo.
-Cleaned up after lunch, finished loading the dishwasher and ran it.
-Opened up a couple of boxes from Amazon. Put the batteries in the cool, light-and-motion sensor lights. Tested it in the (already at four p.m.) dark kitchen.
-Dealt with the cardboard from the order.
-Came upstairs...while watching two episodes of Extant, polished all my jewelry. My hands hurt.

In between all this, I managed to watch about five episodes of Julia Child's The French Chef. Now I want to make croissants.

Back to work for tomorrow, then craft day at my place Friday. Another quick clean Thursday night, then I'll make ham and potato soup Friday morning for lunch for craft day.

Saturday?

I'm planning to take several naps.